Opening the Word: Letting go of control

2 mins read

Timothy P O'MalleyIt is natural for us to want to be in control. We are, after all, precarious creatures. We are born into a world naked, we suffer loneliness and sorrow, and our days are limited upon this earth. Control allows us to bracket our precarity, to live as if there will be another day just like the day that came before.

And yet, Jesus’s entire existence is ordered toward giving up control. He begins to teach his disciples that the denouement of his life is not exclusively up to him. He will go to Jerusalem, he will encounter hostility, and he will be crucified and then raised from the dead.

August 30 – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jer 20:7-9
Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Rom 12:1-2
Mt 16:21-27

Peter rebukes Jesus, saying, ‘”God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you'” (Mt 16:22). You are the one, Jesus, who walked upon the waters, who multiplied loaves and fishes. Man up!

Jesus returns rebuke for rebuke, chastising Peter for thinking not as God but as human beings think.

Peter’s all-too-human logic demands that Jesus take control of the situation. He wants him to gain the upper hand, to take back the power that is rightfully his. Peter needs Jesus to return violence for violence, power for power. He wants Jesus to play the game. That is, after all, the way that we think, the way that we act, the way that fallen human beings “take control.”

Though Jesus refuses the terms of Peter’s demands, he nonetheless has already taken a kind of control. He knows that his life is not his own, that his existence is meant as a gift to the Father. He will take up his cross, sacrifice his precious blood, out of love.

And he teaches, at this precise moment, that if we want to be godly, to have the kind of control Jesus has, we must give it all up. We must take up the cross, following Christ along the precarious path of self-emptying love.

The choice, for us, according to Jesus is stark. We could play the power politics game, take back control, return violence for violence. It’s an option. But, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mt 16:26).

If we want to follow the path of power and control, we lose our lives. Only if we abide in the self-emptying love of the Word made flesh, if we follow Jesus in giving it all up, can we gain our lives.

These are not pious sentiments. We, in the United States, are immersed in yet another contentious national election season. The politics practiced in the U.S. right now is fundamentally about control. Whatever the cost, it’s worth it to be in the room where it happens.

The Church, if we dare, can witness to an alternative politics. This is a politics of sacrificial love, of taking up the cross in witness to the dignity of all life that has been transfigured through the Incarnation of the Word.

We are meant to practice the politics of the martyrs, the ones who witness to the world the foolish logic of sacrificial love. Our politics upholds, if need be at the cost of our lives, the dignity of the unborn, the humanity of the prisoner, and the rights of the migrant.

In all the discussions around the Catholic vote, let us never forget that our fundamental task is to be witnesses, not to power and prestige, but the foolish logic of a cross that redeemed the whole world.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.